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Help! Left water on filling boiler and now...

My spouse left the water fill on last night for approximately hours.  I noticed the vent in the upstairs bathroom had flooded the floor tiles so I went to the basement to get the plumbers' tape (the former owners had stripped most of the threads on 3/4 of the vents).  Low and behold, water everywhere, coming from the main release vents and a slight drip from the main under the kitchen sink.  The house was built in 1910 and the former owners cut corners at every turn, even installing the bilge pump above the floor line and digging the hole at what appears to be the highest point in the basement.  We lost some stuff but the main part of 3-6am was spent draining the boiler bucket by bucket. 

Previously the boiler had been running at 1psi regularly, although requiring water refills often.  Based on the book We Got Steam Heat, we probably have a leak in one of the concrete buried pipes.  More on that later.  Currently, we are in the middle of a blizzard dumping 19" of snow and we need heat.  Here is what happens when I turn the boiler on: the psi climbs to 10+ and the steam begins pouring out of one of the main vents (the one that REALLY flooded a room) and no steam is coming out of the other main vent.  The radiator valves are open half way in each room - previously I had set each to accommodate the normal 1-2 psi. 

The caps on the main vents have a mushroom look.  I cannot tell if the steam coming from the functional vent is coming from under the threads or if there is actually a steam release opening at the top of the cap.  I have a feeling they are actual caps and not main vent release valves.

Currently I have the system shut off.  This is probably creating a vacuum, as the book states, and the system is having to ratchet everything back up to compensate.  I will be finding a qualified steam expert based on the book suggestions.  Today, however, we are having a blizzard so these questions are for just today to get us through to Friday.  My plumber, although an excellent plumber, said something opposite of the book advice so I am quietly seeking



Questions 1: Do I loosen the cap from which no steam is coming? Is there an air block forcing the psi to skyrocket?  What is the danger of loosening the sealed cap or is it really sealed since that is one of the two places where loads of water came out during the overflow? 

Questions 2: What is the next step TODAY?  Turn the system back on and let it run at the heavy condensed steam at 10 psi?  Open the air vents on the radiators all the way or half or low?  I do not want to put us in danger by allowing the psi to increase to a dangerous level.  The boiler is a 2005 Dunkirk.  Yeah, the idiots put copper piping in and later, all that will be changed to threaded steel but this is today.  How do I get the system running safely during the blizzard?  Add water?  Drain water? I sound desperate because it is getting down to 7 tonight and the water which leaked all over also leaked and filled the insulation around the pipes which is some wrapped plastic and thin pad battle dressing the last owner (a DIY 80% man) wrapped around the pipes.



Feel free to email me or text me at (315) 651-6573 and my deepest thanks to the Dead Men, as well as the Live Men and Women of The Wall.

Comments

  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Water Levels:

    I'm not a steam pro but I'll have to do in your emergency. Drain the water out of your system and boiler however you can and fill it back up with water until you can see it in the gauge glass on the boiler. There should be a line on the boiler. Fill it to there. Hopefully, everything will re-set itself. You have to get the water down and out of the system to the proper water level in the boiler to make proper steam.

    It shouldn't be running at 10# of steam now. Was it before?
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    What type system?

    Is this a single pipe steam system or 2 pipe? If single pipe, all radiator valves should always be fully open or fully closed (if no heat is desired) Also, it sounds like your pressuretrol on the boiler may not be working if it lets the pressure get up to 10psi (again psi will vary depending on the type of system). If this is a single pipe system, you need to leave it shut down until someone can check out the pressure controls. This could be dangerous. It sounds like your vents may be waterlogged or stuck open/closed??? Someone needs to take a good on-site look at the entire system before you put it back in use. If you had drained the water out and it settled down and ran relatively normally, I'd say you probably are OK but given the pressure issues and the water still coming out of vents, it needs professional eyes on-site. Also, before you remove any vent caps, be sure the system is off and cooled down. You could get scalded otherwise. Be careful. 
  • Redrabbit
    Redrabbit Member Posts: 6
    Hi Fellas

    Thank you for the feedback.  I have set and restored the water level several times.  I removed the main vent valves, boiled them in vinegar, and restored them.  The psi is still at 12 psi and now one of the main vents where most of the water damage occurred is leaking water.  The other vent is working well and air is escaping as expected. 

    The pressure psi worries me, as well, as the book says no more than 2 psi needed for a house.  If the psi continues to rise, will the system shut itself down?  So far, that has only happened when the water got too low (which was too frequently, yes, but the psi never crept past 2). I do not quite understand what happened to the pressurtrol after last night debacle but it sounds like we blew it.  The book also states to leave the vents open on a higher number for the larger radiators and a lower number for the small ones.  I had the house just right until this happened.  Using the thermal laser, I can 'watch' the radiators fill.  I am concerned, however, about the psi.  THere is now a foot of snow on the ground and almost another foot expected overnight.    Suggest to heat house then shut down, cool, reheat as necessary to stay warm or could the thing blow up?

    I just went down and used the book to ratchet the pressuretrol screw down and bring the setting to it's lowest 0.5.  I also took off the cover and the differential wheel is set just below 1 psi.  Previously, the front panel cut in setting was at 1.0 psi. 

    Thank you again for all of your help.  I feel like I'm learning on the fly and I've had this darn book for months!  Just too busy with school to read it.  Lesson learned.



    Suggestions always welcome.



    PS  Also notice smell when above 10 psi on gauge, which is what made me turn it off last night altogether.  Doesn't smell sulfur.  Smelled hot or burning.  Now it smells hot and burning along with vinegar.  Great.



    Heather
  • Redrabbit
    Redrabbit Member Posts: 6
    amendment

    It is a single pipe system
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited March 2014
    Pressure way too high

    That pressure is way, way too high. If it gets to around 15psi, it will blow your safety relief valve on the boiler. Try one other thing. It is possible that the high water carried junk into the syphon tube (the curled pipe under the pressuretrol and blocked it so that the pressuretrol isn't actually seeing the pressure and letting run up. Take that tube off and clean it, making sure it is open and you can easily blow through it. Make sure your Pressuretrol is set at "1" on the white dial inside the unit and at .5 (half pound) on the Differential on the front of the unit. That should give you all the pressure you need.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    bad gauge?

    This would be more of a question for the pros about this.  Is it possible that the flooding messed up the gauge and actually isn't at 10-12PSI or the pressuretrol got messed up and is running the pressure up?  It doesn't make sense to have a pressuretrol set at 1-2 psi and a gauge reading of 10-12 psi.  Also is it possible some water has gotten air locked into the system?  I know that is a stretch, but would it be worth removing the vent on the most remote radiator on each main to make sure all the extra water in the system is drained down?  Oh and I will reiterate those radiator valves should stay full open at all times on a one pipe system!   I am not a pro, but those couple of thoughts occurred to me when I read the post.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
    While checking the pigtail (syphon tube)

    With the power to the boiler off at the circuit breaker box unwire and twist off the pressuretrol. After checking the pigtail to be sure it's clear, turn the pressuretrol over and make sure the little hole at the base of the brass fitting on the pressuretrol is clear.



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    You have a real problem...

    You don't know what your system is doing, and that could be quite dangerous.



    However, I would ask one real fast question: what does that pressure gauge read when the system is more or less cool?  If it reads 0, or nearly so, and then scoots up to 10 when the boiler starts firing, it may be correct -- and that's not good, as the pressuretrol should shut things off long before then.



    Bottom line on that: either the gauge is bad or the pressuretrol -- or, as has been suggested, the pigtail or the entrance to the pressuretrol is plugged.



    I would be very hesitant to run the system at all until I could be reasonably sure that the pressuretrol was working the way it should.  The only real alternative I see for the time being is for you to assume that that gauge is correct (but check that 0!) and play pressuretrol yourself, turning the system off when the pressure rises and back on when it comes down again.  Again I say I don't recommend doing this; you'd be being a test pilot for an unknown configuration -- but it's the only thing I can think of until you can get a steam guy in there.



    If you can keep the house above freezing in some other way WHICH IS SAFE, I'd do that instead.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Ummm

    I would bank on the gage being close to right on this situation given they smell the heat/pressure. if they don't rely on that gauge for the moment, they have nothing to gage what is happening. Better safe than sorry. Once this is resolved, I would recommend they put a 0-3lb. gauge on the boiler, in addition to the current one. That will give them a much better view of what is going on.

    Also, the Pressuretrol can't run the pressure up. It's sole purpose is to break the circuit when the pressure gets to the set level (approximately), which based on the new settings should be around 1.5psi, maybe 2psi given a margin for error. When the pressure get down to the .5lb again, the switch in the Pressuretrol will close, completing the circuit and allowing the burner to come back on.

    Flooding the boiler should not have done any damage to the pressuretrol itself given it is pretty much isolated from the boiler water. I suppose the water could have gotten hot enough to have an effect the pressuretrol (while the boiler was in its flooded state) but my guess is the syphon tube is clogged.
  • Redrabbit
    Redrabbit Member Posts: 6
    Okay, here it is...

    I went down to blow out the copper pigtail and had drained the furthest radiator when Wayne P. Heid of Webster, NY called me back.  Here is his website:http://www.houzz.com/pro/wayneheid/wayne-p-heid-inc

     We talked and I disconnected the pressuretrol, blew out the pigtail, and it was fine.  Mr. Heid suggested it might either be the diaphragm in the pressuretrol, the psi pressure gauge, the bladder inside the boiler, or a number of other things but in that order.  He will be coming tomorrow or Friday, weather permitting (if you look at the map of Rochester, NY right now, you'll know that 22" is about right).  I will let each of you very helpful guys know his diagnosis and again, am thankful for both Dan, this website, and the people like you who have been soothing my nerves all day long with suggestions.  Sometimes you just need to be proactive and then sometimes, you gotta wait for the expert to arrive! 

    Best to all,

    Heather
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    Hope he makes it tomorrow

    And hope he gets you all fixed up!  Please keep us posted as to what the problem was.  Best of luck to you...and stay warm!
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Bladder?

    I can buy the diaphragm on the Pressuretrol. I might even buy the gauge (but I doubt it. That much pressure will push water out vents so I suspect the gauge is telling you a truth) BUT, I don't know of any single pipe system that has a boiler with a bladder in it. Make sure this guy knows what he is doing before he does anything other than put a new Pressuretrol on. Don't let him sell you a new boiler based on a faulty "bladder" Best of Luck. We'll be interested in how this is resolved
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Bladder?

    Mine is none too good -- I'm 72 -- but there are no bladders in a steam boiler, or anywhere else in a steam system for that matter.  That remark by your plumber does not inspire confidence...



    However, it could very well be the pressuretrol.  It could also be the vents.  Enough water pressure to come out of a vent up in the house could very well have damaged any or all of them...



    Keep us posted!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Redrabbit
    Redrabbit Member Posts: 6
    Bladder gone wrong

    Good grief!  I did not mean to write bladder.  I am writing a paper on uremia which has to do with the kidneys and urea content. Please forgive the miscommunication on my part.  Little sleep in last 24 hours.  Will post diagnosis immediately for your consideration (and in case you have some side bets going on).  I will not, however, post the paper on uremia so that you may continue to enjoy your experience on The Wall.

    Best to you!
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    LOL

    LOL, I love it!
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    LOL Indeed

    We have all been there!  I remember working 2 jobs and going to school...wish I could forget it sometimes.  lol
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Wayne Heid
    Wayne Heid Member Posts: 49
    The verdict is in.

    Thanks to everyone for helping Heather get through her initial problems. I made the repairs to her system and she asked me to post a follow-up to let you know what transpired.



    It appeared that the over-pressurization caused a failure of her Pressuretrol. And to compund matters, her boiler pressure gauge was also damaged at some point. I'm not sure if that was related to this incident, but it reads 8PSI when the boiler has no pressure on it. It's an 9 year old Dunkirk PVSB-5D with the 0-30 PSI gauge mounted into a top tapping.



    Either way, we changed the pressuretrol, lowered her pressure to 2PSI with a 1 PSI cut-in, and added a low pressure gauge (0-5 PSI). We decided to forgo replacing the 0-30 PSI gauge as it now has little real value to her (or me).



    Her end-of-main vents were also undersized (Dole #4's), one was leaking and the other was questionable, so we replaced them w/ Gorton #2's.



    Time to vent the long main has dropped from over 13 minutes down to 71 seconds.



    Next up ... replacing some failed radiator vents, balancing the system and adding some near-boiler insulation. The thermostat also needs replacing (a Hunter 44100) as it has no cycle/hr adjustment.



    Wayne
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    Awesome

    Glad you got her all fixed up!
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Thanks

    for the update, Wayne!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Great!

    I wondered if you were able to get the problems resolved. Glad to hear you're back up and running.
  • Redrabbit
    Redrabbit Member Posts: 6
    Wayne Heid, hydronist extraordinaire

    It sounds as though these replacements were made to my person directly and now that I think about it, I could use a new Pressuretrol and working main vents:-)  Wayne came in and fixed darn near everything and unfortunately for him, mentioned the book ER (Every Radiator) which I now must own and will certainly be chatting him up about. 



    He forgot to mention that he removed the offending dummy handle which lulled my spouse into thinking the water was shut off - it was the old main that fed cold water into the boiler.  Someone hooked up the hot water main instead right next to it and left both yellow handles within inches of one another.  It is the simple observations and subsequent fixes that make life kinder.  I appreciate Wayne's patience, his willingness to be observed while working, and his thorough, practical explanations in layman's terms.  As a doctor, these are the characteristics I respect in others.  As an ignorant steam radiator owner, these are blessings from someone who is both craftsman and problem-solver.



    Thank you to Wayne and to all of you who followed, responded to, and have now checked back on the progress of this post. 



    Kindly,

    Heather
  • Wayne Heid
    Wayne Heid Member Posts: 49
    Thanks Heather

    Thanks for your kind words Heather. I'm very happy to have you both as new clients and friends.



    Wayne